Not another Roguelike! Yes, but this one may have something different to offer.
Mana Spark is a challenging, action roguelike with light RPG elements and deep combat. Developed by Behemutt, it’s a game where your enemies actually plan, and collaborate between themselves, to kill you. In traditional rogue-like fashion, you’re going to die in Mana Spark. Probably a lot. Dare I say, it has a Souls-Lite feel. (Yes, I went there… Fight me.)
Mana Spark is about humanity being the weak minority. While other races live in prosperity fueled by mana, humans have been subjugated, slaughtered, and enslaved. Humans’ lack of mana energy in their bodies left them exposed to the power of magic. Without the ability to defend themselves, they were vulnerable to the abuses. And that’s where our Hero’s involvement begins…
Until you are strong enough to reach the game’s final boss and ultimately defeat him, your primary objective is to collect Mana runes. Each enemy you kill has a chance of dropping a rune upon it’s death. Every time you leave the safety of your encampment and run off into the woods, you are hoping to collect as many runes as you can before you inevitably die and have to try again. But there’s one catch to holding on to your precioussss…
In order for collected runes to “count”, you have to place them inside a chest before you die. which are only found These chests can only be found in what are called Peculiar Rooms. I was lucky to have a handful of runes to place into the chest at a time. They ARE precious!
You will need to conquer two of the game’s procedurally generated forest areas to reach the first Peculiar Room. Then it’s into a dungeon area, before facing the first boss. Then another dungeon floor, then the next Peculiar Room. After that? You guessed it! Another dungeon floor, before the second, anticlimactic boss fight. Are you seeing a pattern here?? I’ll leave the joy of discovering what the third, and final area as a surprise because well, if you can make it a little farther, you earn a shot at the game’s third and final boss….and if you defeat the final boss?
Congratulations! You get to do it again. If you want. It took me less than 5 hours to see the final boss lying dead before me.
The only thing that helped keep things interesting after the first couple of hours were the random, temporary upgrades you can find (or buy with coins earned) in the Peculiar Room checkpoints. You may get an upgrade that increases your health by one or perhaps one that increases your attack strength.
You’ll also get the chance to purchase a different secondary attack, if your current one isn’t working out, to use for the duration of your run. If you do go that route, you’ll unlock it with the blacksmith back at your camp. Stacking these upgrades in a way that complement each other is the key to humiliating the final boss.
So it’s shallow and short. Any good news?
Yes, this title only has a total of 3 types of areas to battle through and only 3, very forgettable, Bosses. Luckily, there is still some good to be found.
The combat in Mana Spark feels deliberate and tight. You’ll see one type of enemy jump onto the back of another and then beginning riding each other. They’ll flank you and follow you, even when you think you’ve ducked around a corner in time. You can even cause your enemies to suffer from some friendly fire! It’s all very satisfying. You’ll also need to learn the enemy’s patterns and behavior if you want to survive very long. I knew why I died every time. Because I had to Git Gud!!
The game’s sense of progression is one of it’s strengths. I was regularly dying, but still expanding my camp. And your camp is key, if you have any hope of slaying that final boss. The encampment is where you start every run and it’s also where you’ll find your only allies in the game.
You’re not alone in this world.
Once you have beaten the first boss to unlock your second playable character, the encampment is where you can switch between Ellis, the hunter (three hearts of health and a traditional bow), and Jasika, the crossbow guard (only two hearts but her bow takes less time between each of her (weaker) shots). A third character may also be found in the dungeon, a four-heart tanky Swordfighter.
When you first begin, your lone camp companion is Li Wei, a character who can recruit other friends in exchange for two of your precious runes. The first time you do, you’ll unlock someone who offers recipes that give permanent bonuses to things like your attack power or speed. Again, these come at the cost of giving up more runes.
That blacksmith I mentioned? He offers a choice of secondary attacks that each come with their own cool-down timer. You start with a lone bear trap that, when layed down, hurts any enemy who happen to step on it. You’ll unlock other secondary items as you progress. Those range from a net that slows (and poisons) any creatures that enter its area, to a weapon that can stun your enemies. Each secondary attack can also be upgraded individually. It’s a nice system, though it left me wishing more options were available to try.
There’s a third camp companion who’ll appear that will teach you the secret weakness of every enemy you come across. Before beginning a run, you can speak to them and choose an enemy to “weaken”, making every enemy of that type easier to dispatch for that run through the world.
Graphics, Audio (and that camera)
The (now indie standard) pixel graphics found in Mana Spark offer a distinct blend of being extremely basic overall (your character has a blank, soulless face) yet offering some tiny details. I had as much fun shooting out candles and torches as I did taking out the co-op happy enemies. The music in Mana Spark is far too “safe” for me and is another forgettable aspect of this title. The sound effects, in contrast, have a decent variety and are pretty effective.
And, I don’t know about you but, I’m accustomed to playing games where the point of view is focused on the player-character. Mana Spark insists on centering the camera on the aiming reticle for your weapon. This means that, while you’re attempting to aim at your moving targets, the entire world is yanked around with it. Have fun with that! I know I didn’t.
I’m not prone to any kind of motion sickness but this title had even me feeling like I was on the edge. It’s a horrible design choice. I managed to adjust to it but it really takes away from the otherwise tight, enjoyable combat.
Mana Spark begins promising with tight controls, intelligent enemies and an interesting premise. It quickly devolves into a repetitive, shallow grind fest. That mercilessly ends relatively quickly once you’re geared up.
A shame really. The bones for a top-tier rogue-like are here. It just needs some more meat and a completely revamped camera. Recommended only for hardcore fans of the genre or someone looking for a short, rougelike fix. It’s available for $9.99 USD on the eShop, if you’re interested.
5/10 Average Roguelike
- Fun, Tight Combat
- Interesting enemies
- Forgettable Bosses
- Lacking Depth and Options
- Lazy Example of Random Level Generation
- That Horrible Camera!!
- Poor Replayability
- Over Too Quickly (or should that be a Pro?)